A number of most agreeable Inquirendoes upon Life & Letters, interspersed with Short Stories & Skits, the whole most Diverting to the Reader
TITLES AND DEDICATIONS
I wanted to call these exercises "Casual Ablutions," in memory of the immortal sign in the washroom of the British Museum, but my arbiter of elegance forbade it. You remember that George Gissing, homeless and penniless on London streets, used to enjoy the lavatory of the Museum Reading Room as a fountain and a shrine. But the flinty hearted trustees, finding him using the wash-stand for bath-tub and laundry, were exceeding wroth, and set up the notice
THESE BASINS ARE FOR CASUAL ABLUTIONS ONLY
I would like to issue the same warning to the implacable reader: these fugitive pieces, very casual rinsings in the great basin of letters, must not be too bitterly resented, even by their publishers. To borrow O. Henry's joke, they are more demitasso than Tasso.
The real purpose in writing books is to have the pleasure of dedicating them to someone, and here I am in a quandary. So many dedications have occurred to me, it seems only fair to give them all a chance.
I thought of dedicating the book to CLAYTON SEDGWICK COOPER The Laird of Westcolang
I thought of dedicating to the TWO BEST BOOK SHOPS IN THE WORLD Blackwell's in Oxford and Leary's in Philadelphia
I thought of dedicating to THE 8:13 TRAIN
I thought of dedicating to EDWARD PAGE ALLINSON The Squire of Town's End Farm Better known as Mifflin McGill In affectionate memory of Many unseasonable jests
I thought of dedicating to PROFESSOR FRANCIS B. GUMMERE From an erring pupil
I thought of dedicating to FRANCIS R. BELLAMY Author of "The Balance" Whose Talent I Revere, But Whose Syntax I Deplore
I thought of dedicating to JOHN N. BEFFEL My First Editor Who insisted on taking me seriously
I thought of dedicating to GUY S.K. WHEELER The Lion Cub
I thought of dedicating to ROBERT CORTES HOLLIDAY The Urbanolater
I thought of dedicating to SILAS ORRIN HOWES Faithful Servant of Letters
But my final and irrevocable decision is to dedicate this book to THE MIEHLE PRINTING PRESS More Sinned Against Than Sinning
* * * * *
For permission to reprint, I denounce The New York Evening Post, The Boston Transcript, The Bellman, The Smart Set, The New York Sun, The New York Evening Sun, The American Oxonian, Collier's, and The Ladies' Home Journal.
SHANDYGAFF: a very refreshing drink, being a mixture of bitter ale or beer and ginger-beer, commonly drunk by the lower classes in England, and by strolling tinkers, low church parsons, newspaper men, journalists, and prizefighters. Said to have been invented by Henry VIII as a solace for his matrimonial difficulties. It is believed that a continual bibbing of shandygaff saps the will, the nerves, the resolution, and the finer faculties, but there are those who will abide no other tipple.
John Mistletoe: Dictionary of Deplorable Facts.
The Song of Shandygaff Titles and Dedications A Question of Plumage Don Marquis The Art of Walking Rupert Brooke The Man The Head of the Firm 17 Heriot Row Frank Confessions of a Publisher's Reader William McFee Rhubarb The Haunting Beauty of Strychnine Ingo Housebroken The Hilarity of Hilaire A Casual of the Sea The Last Pipe Time to Light the Furnace My Friend A Poet of Sad Vigils Trivia Prefaces The Skipper A Friend of FitzGerald A Venture in Mysticism An Oxford Landlady "Peacock Pie" The Literary Pawnshop A Morning in Marathon The American House of Lords Cotswold Winds Clouds Unhealthy Confessions of a Smoker Hay Febrifuge Appendix: Suggestions for Teachers.
A QUESTION OF PLUMAGE
Kenneth Stockton was a man of letters, and correspondingly poor. He was the literary editor of a leading metropolitan daily; but this job only netted him fifty dollars a week, and he was lucky to get that much. The owner of the paper was powerfully in favour of having the reviews done by the sporting editor, and confining them to the books of those publishers who bought advertising space. This simple and statesmanlike view the owner had frequently expressed in Mr. Stockton's hearing, so the latter was never very sure how long his job would continue.
But Mr. Stockton had a house, a wife, and four children in New Utrecht, that very ingenious suburb of Brooklyn. He had worked the problem out to a nicety long ago. If he did not bring home, on the average, eighty dollars a week, his household would cease to revolve. It simply had to be done. The house was still being paid for on the installment plan. There were plumbers' bills, servant's wages, clothes and schooling for the children, clothes for the wife, two suits a year for himself, and the dues of the Sheepshead Golf Club—his only extravagance. A simple middle-class routine, but one that, once embarked upon, turns into a treadmill. As I say, eighty dollars a week would just cover expenses. To accumulate any savings, pay for life insurance, and entertain friends, Stockton had to rise above that minimum. If in any week he fell below that figure he could not lie abed at night and "snort his fill," as the Elizabethan song naively puts it.
There you have the groundwork of many a domestic drama.
Mr. Stockton worked pretty hard at the newspaper office to earn his fifty dollars. He skimmed faithfully all the books that came in, wrote painstaking reviews, and took care to run cuts on his literary page on Saturdays "to give the stuff kick," as the proprietor ordered. Though he did so with reluctance, he was forced now and then to approach the book publishers on the subject of advertising. He gave earnest and honest thought to his literary department, and was once praised by Mr. Howells in Harper's Magazine for the honourable quality of his criticisms.
But Mr. Stockton, like most men, had only a certain fund of energy and enthusiasm at his disposal. His work on the paper used up the first fruits of his zeal and strength. After that came his article on current poetry, written (unsigned) for a leading imitation literary weekly. The preparation of this involved a careful perusal of at least fifty journals, both American and foreign, and I blush to say it brought him only fifteen dollars a week. He wrote a weekly "New York Letter" for a Chicago paper of bookish tendencies, in which he told with a flavour of intimacy the goings on of literary men in Manhattan whom he never had time or opportunity to meet. This article was paid for at space rates, which are less in Chicago than in New York. On this count he averaged about six dollars a week.
That brings us up to seventy-one dollars, and also pretty close to the limit of our friend's endurance. The additional ten dollars or so needed for the stability of the Stockton exchequer he earned in various ways. Neighbours in New Utrecht would hear his weary typewriter clacking far into the night. He wrote short stories, of only fair merit; and he wrote "Sunday stories," which is the lowest depth to which a self-respecting lover of literature can fall. Once in a while he gave a lecture on poetry, but he was a shy man, and he never was asked to lecture twice in the same place. By almost incredible exertions of courage and obstinacy he wrote a novel, which was published, and sold 2,580 copies the first year. His royalties on this amounted to $348.30—not one-third as much, he reflected sadly, as Irvin Cobb would receive for a single short story. He even did a little private tutoring at his home, giving the sons of some of his friends lessons in English literature.
It is to be seen that Mr. Stockton's relatives, back in Indiana, were wrong when they wrote to him admiringly—as they did twice a year—asking for loans, and praising the bold and debonair life of a man of letters in the great city. They did not know that for ten years Mr. Stockton had refused the offers of his friends to put him up for membership at the literary club to which his fancy turned so fondly and so often. He could not afford it. When friends from out of town called on him, he took them to Peck's for a French table d'hote, with an apologetic murmur.
But it is not to be thought that Mr. Stockton was unhappy or discontented. Those who have experienced the excitements of the existence where one lives from hand to mouth and back to hand again, with rarely more than fifty cents of loose change in pocket, know that there is even a kind of pleasurable exhilaration in it. The characters in George Gissing's Grub Street stories would have thought Stockton rich indeed with his fifty-dollar salary. But he was one of those estimable men who have sense enough to give all their money to their wives and keep none in their trousers. And though his life was arduous and perhaps dull to outward view, he was a passionate lover of books, and in his little box at the back of the newspaper office, smoking a corncob and thumping out his reviews, he was one of the happiest men in New York. His thirst for books was a positive bulimia; how joyful he was when he found time to do a little work on his growing sheaf of literary essays, which he intended to call "Casual Ablutions," after the famous sign in the British Museum washroom.
It was Mr. Stockton's custom to take a trolley as far as the Brooklyn bridge, and thence it was a pleasant walk to the office on Park Row. Generally he left home about ten o'clock, thus avoiding the rush of traffic in the earlier hours; and loitering a little along the way, as becomes a man of ideas, his article on poetry would jell in his mind, and he would be at his desk a little after eleven. There he would work until one o'clock with the happy concentration of those who enjoy their tasks. At that time he would go out for a bite of lunch, and would then be at his desk steadily from two until six. Dinner at home was at seven, and after that he worked persistently in his little den under the roof until past midnight.
One morning in spring he left New Utrecht in a mood of perplexity, for to-day his even routine was in danger of interruption. Halfway across the bridge Stockton paused in some confusion of spirit to look down on the shining river and consider his course.
A year or so before this time, in gathering copy for his poetry articles, he had first come across the name of Finsbury Verne in an English journal at the head of some exquisite verses. From time to time he found more of this writer's lyrics in the English magazines, and at length he had ventured a graceful article of appreciation. It happened that he was the first in this country to recognize Verne's talent, and to his great delight he had one day received a very charming letter from the poet himself, thanking him for his understanding criticism.
Stockton, though a shy and reticent man, had the friendliest nature in the world, and some underlying spirit of kinship in Verne's letter prompted him to warm response. Thus began a correspondence which was a remarkable pleasure to the lonely reviewer, who knew no literary men, although his life was passed among books. Hardly dreaming that they would ever meet, he had insisted on a promise that if Verne should ever visit the States he would make New Utrecht his headquarters. And now, on this very morning, there had come a wireless message via Seagate, saying that Verne was on a ship which would dock that afternoon.
The dilemma may seem a trifling one, but to Stockton's sensitive nature it was gross indeed. He and his wife knew that they could offer but little to make the poet's visit charming. New Utrecht, on the way to Coney Island, is not a likely perching ground for poets; the house was small, shabby, and the spare room had long ago been made into a workshop for the two boys, where they built steam engines and pasted rotogravure pictures from the Sunday editions on the walls. The servant was an enormous coloured mammy, with a heart of ruddy gold, but in appearance she was pure Dahomey. The bathroom plumbing was out of order, the drawing-room rug was fifteen years old, even the little lawn in front of the house needed trimming, and the gardener would not be round for several days. And Verne had given them only a few hours' notice. How like a poet!
In his letters Stockton had innocently boasted of the pleasant time they would have when the writer should come to visit. He had spoken of evenings beside the fire when they would talk for hours of the things that interest literary men. What would Verne think when he found the hearth only a gas log, and one that had a peculiarly offensive odour? This sickly sweetish smell had become in years of intimacy very dear to Stockton, but he could hardly expect a poet who lived in Well Walk, Hampstead (O Shades of Keats!), and wrote letters from a London literary club, to understand that sort of thing. Why, the man was a grandson of Jules Verne, and probably had been accustomed to refined surroundings all his life. And now he was doomed to plumb the sub-fuse depths of New Utrecht!
Stockton could not even put him up at a club, as he belonged to none but the golf club, which had no quarters for the entertainment of out-of-town guests. Every detail of his home life was of the shabby, makeshift sort which is so dear to one's self but needs so much explaining to outsiders. He even thought with a pang of Lorna Doone, the fat, plebeian little mongrel terrier which had meals with the family and slept with the children at night. Verne was probably used to staghounds or Zeppelin hounds or something of the sort, he thought humorously. English poets wear an iris halo in the eyes of humble American reviewers. Those godlike creatures have walked on Fleet Street, have bought books on Paternoster Row, have drunk half-and-half and eaten pigeon pie at the Salutation and Cat, and have probably roared with laughter over some alehouse jest of Mr. Chesterton.
Stockton remembered the photograph Verne had sent him, showing a lean, bearded face with wistful dark eyes against a background of old folios. What would that Olympian creature think of the drudge of New Utrecht, a mere reviewer who sold his editorial copies to pay for shag tobacco!
Well, thought Stockton, as he crossed the bridge, rejoicing not at all in the splendid towers of Manhattan, candescent in the April sun, they had done all they could. He had left his wife telephoning frantically to grocers, cleaning women, and florists. He himself had stopped at the poultry market on his way to the trolley to order two plump fowls for dinner, and had pinched them with his nervous, ink-stained fingers, as ordered by Mrs. Stockton, to test their tenderness. They would send the three younger children to their grandmother, to be interned there until the storm had blown over; and Mrs. Stockton was going to do what she could to take down the rotogravure pictures from the walls of what the boys fondly called the Stockton Art Gallery. He knew that Verne had children of his own: perhaps he would be amused rather than dismayed by the incongruities of their dismantled guestroom. Presumably, the poet was aver here for a lecture tour—he would be entertained and feted everywhere by the cultured rich, for the appreciation which Stockton had started by his modest little essay had grown to the dimension of a fad.
He looked again at the telegram which had shattered the simple routine of his unassuming life. "On board Celtic dock this afternoon three o'clock hope see you. Verne." He sneezed sharply, as was his unconscious habit when nervous. In desperation he stopped at a veterinary's office on Frankfort Street, and left orders to have the doctor's assistant call for Lorna Doone and take her away, to be kept until sent for. Then he called at a wine merchant's and bought three bottles of claret of a moderate vintage. Verne had said something about claret in one of his playful letters. Unfortunately, the man's grandfather was a Frenchman, and undoubtedly he knew all about wines.
Stockton sneezed so loudly and so often at his desk that morning that all his associates knew something was amiss. The Sunday editor, who had planned to borrow fifty cents from him at lunch time, refrained from doing so, in a spirit of pure Christian brotherhood. Even Bob Bolles, the hundred-and-fifty-dollar-a-week conductor of "The Electric Chair," the paper's humorous column, came in to see what was up. Bob's "contribs" had been generous that morning, and he was in unusually good humour for a humourist.
"What's the matter, Stock," he inquired genially, "Got a cold? Or has George Moore sent in a new novel?"
Stockton looked up sadly from the proofs he was correcting. How could he confess his paltry problem to this debonair creature who wore life lightly, like a flower, and played at literature as he played tennis, with swerve and speed? Bolles was a bachelor, the author of a successful comedy, and a member of the smart literary club which was over the reviewer's horizon, although in the great ocean of letters the humourist was no more than a surf bather. Stockton shook his head. No one but a married man and an unsuccessful author could understand his trouble.
"A touch of asthma," he fibbed shyly. "I always have it at this time of year."
"Come and have some lunch," said the other. "We'll go up to the club and have some ale. That'll put you on your feet."
"Thanks, ever so much," said Stockton, "but I can't do it to-day. Got to make up my page. I tell you what, though—"
He hesitated, and flushed a little.
"Say it," said Bolles kindly.
"Verne is in town to-day; the English poet, you know. Grandson of old Jules Verne. I'm going to put him up at my house. I wish you'd take him around to the club for lunch some day while he's here. He ought to meet some of the men there. I've been corresponding with him for a long time, and I—I'm afraid I rather promised to take him round there, as though I were a member, you know."
"Great snakes!" cried Bolles. "Verne? the author of 'Candle Light'? And you're going to put him up? You lucky devil. Why, the man's bigger than Masefield. Take him to lunch—I should say I will; Why, I'll put him in the colyum. Both of you come round there to-morrow and we'll have an orgy. I'll order larks' tongues and convolvulus salad. I didn't know you knew him."
"I don't—yet," said Stockton. "I'm going down to meet his steamer this afternoon."
"Well, that's great news," said the volatile humourist. And he ran downstairs to buy the book of which he had so often heard but had never read.
The sight of Bolles' well-cut suit of tweeds had reminded Stockton that he was still wearing the threadbare serge that had done duty for three winters, and would hardly suffice for the honours to come. Hastily he blue-pencilled his proofs, threw them into the wire basket, and hurried outdoors to seek the nearest tailor. He stopped at the bank first, to draw out fifty dollars for emergencies. Then he entered the first clothier's shop he encountered on Nassau Street.
Mr. Stockton was a nervous man, especially so in the crises when he was compelled to buy anything so important as a suit, for usually Mrs. Stockton supervised the selection. To-day his Unlucky star was in the zenith. His watch pointed to close on two o'clock, and he was afraid he might be late for the steamer, which docked far uptown. In his haste, and governed perhaps by some subconscious recollection of the humourist's attractive shaggy tweeds, he allowed himself to be fitted with an ochre-coloured suit of some fleecy checked material grotesquely improper for his unassuming figure. It was the kind of cloth and cut that one sees only in the windows of Nassau Street. Happily he was unaware of the enormity of his offence against society, and rapidly transferring his belongings to the new pockets, he paid down the purchase price and fled to the subway.
When he reached the pier at the foot of Fourteenth Street he saw that the steamer was still in midstream and it would be several minutes before she warped in to the dock. He had no pass from the steamship office, but on showing his newspaperman's card the official admitted him to the pier, and he took his stand at the first cabin gangway, trembling a little with nervousness, but with a pleasant feeling of excitement no less. He gazed at the others waiting for arriving travellers and wondered whether any of the peers of American letters had come to meet the poet. A stoutish, neatly dressed gentleman with a gray moustache looked like Mr. Howells, and he thrilled again. It was hardly possible that he, the obscure reviewer, was the only one who had been notified of Verne's arrival. That tall, hawk-faced man whose limousine was purring outside must be a certain publisher he knew by sight.
What would these gentlemen say when they learned that the poet was to stay with Kenneth Stockton, in New Utrecht? He rolled up the mustard-coloured trousers one more round—they were much too long for him—and watched the great hull slide along the side of the pier with a peculiar tingling shudder that he had not felt since the day of his wedding.
He expected no difficulty in recognizing Finsbury Verne, for he was very familiar with his photograph. As the passengers poured down the slanting gangway, all bearing the unmistakable air and stamp of superiority that marks those who have just left the sacred soil of England, he scanned the faces with an eye of keen regard. To his surprise he saw the gentlemen he had marked respectively as Mr. Howells and the publisher greet people who had not the slightest resemblance to the poet, and go with them to the customs alcoves. Traveller after traveller hurried past him, followed by stewards carrying luggage; gradually the flow of people thinned, and then stopped altogether, save for one or two invalids who were being helped down the incline by nurses. And still no sign of Finsbury Verne.
Suddenly a thought struck him. Was it possible that—the second class? His eye brightened and he hurried to the gangway, fifty yards farther down the pier, where the second-cabin passengers were disembarking.
There were more of the latter, and the passageway was still thronged. Just as Stockton reached the foot of the plank a little man in green ulster and deerstalker cap, followed by a plump little woman and four children in single file, each holding fast to the one in front like Alpine climbers, came down the narrow bridge, taking almost ludicrous care not to slip on the cleated boards. To his amazement the reviewer recognized the dark beard and soulful eyes of the poet.
Mr. Verne clutched in rigid arms, not a roll of manuscripts, but a wriggling French poodle, whose tufted tail waved under the poet's chin. The lady behind him, evidently his wife, as she clung steadfastly to the skirt of his ulster, held tightly in the other hand a large glass jar in which two agitated goldfish were swimming, while the four children watched their parents with anxious eyes for the safety of their pets. "Daddy, look out for Ink!" shrilled one of them, as the struggles of the poodle very nearly sent him into the water under the ship's side. Two smiling stewards with mountainous portmanteaux followed the party. "Mother, are Castor and Pollux all right?" cried the smallest child, and promptly fell on his nose on the gangway, disrupting the file.
Stockton, with characteristic delicacy, refrained from making himself known until the Vernes had recovered from the embarrassments of leaving the ship. He followed them at a distance to the "V" section where they waited for the customs examination. With mingled feelings he saw that Finsbury Verne was no cloud-walking deity, but one even as himself, indifferently clad, shy and perplexed of eye, worried with the comic cares of a family man. All his heart warmed toward the poet, who stood in his bulging greatcoat, perspiring and aghast at the uproar around him. He shrank from imagining what might happen when he appeared at home with the whole family, but without hesitation he approached and introduced himself.
Verne's eyes shone with unaffected pleasure at the meeting, and he presented the reviewer to his wife and the children, two boys and two girls. The two boys, aged about ten and eight, immediately uttered cryptic remarks which Stockton judged were addressed to him.
"Castorian!" cried the larger boy, looking at the yellow suit.
"Polluxite!" piped the other in the same breath.
Mrs. Verne, in some embarrassment, explained that the boys were in the throes of a new game they had invented on the voyage. They had created two imaginary countries, named in honour of the goldfish, and it was now their whim to claim for their respective countries any person or thing that struck their fancy. "Castoria was first," said Mrs. Verne, "so you must consider yourself a citizen of that nation."
Somewhat shamefaced at this sudden honour, Mr. Stockton turned to the poet. "You're all coming home with me, aren't you?" he said. "I got your telegram this morning. We'd be delighted to have you."
"It's awfully good of you," said the poet, "but as a matter of fact we're going straight on to the country to-morrow morning. My wife has some relatives in Yonkers, wherever they are, and she and the children are going to stay with them. I've got to go up to Harvard to give some lectures."
A rush of cool, sweet relief bathed Stockton's brow.
"Why, I'm disappointed you're going right on," he stammered. "Mrs. Stockton and I were hoping—"
"My dear fellow, we could never impose such a party on your hospitality," said Verne. "Perhaps you can recommend us to some quiet hotel where we can stay the night."
Like all New Yorkers, Stockton could hardly think of the name of any hotel when asked suddenly. At first he said the Astor House, and then remembered that it had been demolished years before. At last he recollected that a brother of his from Indiana had once stayed at the Obelisk.
After the customs formalities were over—not without embarrassment, as Mr. Verne's valise when opened displayed several pairs of bright red union suits and a half-empty bottle of brandy—Stockton convoyed them to a taxi. Noticing the frayed sleeve of the poet's ulster he felt quite ashamed of the aggressive newness of his clothes. And when the visitors whirled away, after renewed promises for a meeting a little later in the spring, he stood for a moment in a kind of daze. Then he hurried toward the nearest telephone booth.
As the Vernes sat at dinner that night in the Abyssinian Room of the Obelisk Hotel, the poet said to his wife: "It would have been delightful to spend a few days with the Stocktons."
"My dear," said she, "I wouldn't have these wealthy Americans see how shabby we are for anything. The children are positively in rags, and your clothes—well, I don't know what they'll think at Harvard. You know if this lecture trip doesn't turn out well we shall be simply bankrupt."
The poet sighed. "I believe Stockton has quite a charming place in the country near New York," he said.
"That may be so," said Mrs. Verne. "But did you ever see such clothes? He looked like a canary."
There is nothing more pathetic than the case of the author who is the victim of a supposedly critical essay. You hold him in the hollow of your hand. You may praise him for his humour when he wants to be considered a serious and saturnine dog. You may extol his songs of war and passion when he yearns to be esteemed a light, jovial merryandrew with never a care in the world save the cellar plumbing. You may utterly misrepresent him, and hang some albatross round his neck that will be offensive to him forever. You may say that he hails from Brooklyn Heights when the fact is that he left there two years ago and now lives in Port Washington. You may even (for instance) call him stout....
Don Marquis was born in 1878; reckoning by tens, '88, '98, '08—well, call it forty. He is burly, ruddy, gray-haired, and fond of corncob pipes, dark beer, and sausages. He looks a careful blend of Falstaff and Napoleon III. He has conducted the Sun Dial in the New York Evening Sun since 1912. He stands out as one of the most penetrating satirists and resonant scoffers at folderol that this continent nourishes. He is far more than a colyumist: he is a poet—a kind of Meredithian Prometheus chained to the roar and clank of a Hoe press. He is a novelist of Stocktonian gifts, although unfortunately for us he writes the first half of a novel easier than the second. And I think that in his secret heart and at the bottom of the old haircloth round-top trunk he is a dramatist.
He good-naturedly deprecates that people praise "Archy the Vers Libre Cockroach" and clamour for more; while "Hermione," a careful and cutting satire on the follies of pseudokultur near the Dewey Arch, elicits only "a mild, mild smile." As he puts it:
A chair broke down in the midst of a Bernard Shaw comedy the other evening. Everybody laughed. They had been laughing before from time to time. That was because it was a Shaw comedy. But when the chair broke they roared. We don't blame them for roaring, but it makes us sad.
The purveyor of intellectual highbrow wit and humour pours his soul into the business of capturing a few refined, appreciative grins in the course of a lifetime, grins that come from the brain; he is more than happy if once or twice in a generation he can get a cerebral chuckle—and then Old Boob Nature steps in and breaks a chair or flings a fat man down on the ice and the world laughs with, all its heart and soul.
Don Marquis recognizes as well as any one the value of the slapstick as a mirth-provoking instrument. (All hail to the slapstick! it was well known at the Mermaid Tavern, we'll warrant.) But he prefers the rapier. Probably his Savage Portraits, splendidly truculent and slashing sonnets, are among the finest pieces he has done.
The most honourable feature of Marquis's writing, the "small thing to look for but the big thing to find," is its quality of fine workmanship. The swamis and prophets of piffle, the Bhandranaths and Fothergill Finches whom he detests, can only create in an atmosphere specially warmed, purged and rose-watered for their moods. Marquis has emerged from the underworld of newspaper print just by his heroic ability to transform the commonest things into tools for his craft. Much of his best and subtlest work has been clacked out on a typewriter standing on an upturned packing box. (When the American Magazine published a picture of him at work on his packing case the supply man of the Sun got worried, and gave him a regular desk.) Newspaper men are a hardy race. Who but a man inured to the squalour of a newspaper office would dream of a cockroach as a hero? Archy was born in the old Sun building, now demolished, once known as Vermin Castle.
"Publishing a volume of verse," Don has plaintively observed, "is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting to hear the echo." Yet if the petal be authentic rose, the answer will surely come. Some poets seek to raft oblivion by putting on frock coats and reading their works aloud to the women's clubs. Don Marquis has no taste for that sort of mummery. But little by little his potent, yeasty verses, fashioned from the roaring loom of every day, are winning their way into circulation. Any reader who went to Dreams and Dust (poems, published October, 1915) expecting to find light and waggish laughter, was on a blind quest. In that book speaks the hungry and visionary soul of this man, quick to see beauty and grace in common things, quick to question the answerless face of life—
Still mounts the dream on shining pinion, Still broods the dull distrust; Which shall have ultimate dominion, Dream, or dust?
Heavy men are light on their feet: it takes stout poets to write nimble verses (Mr. Chesterton, for instance). Don Marquis has something of Dobsonian cunning to set his musings to delicate, austere music. He can turn a rondeau or a triolet as gracefully as a paying teller can roll Durham cigarettes.
How neat this is:
TO A DANCING DOLL
Formal, quaint, precise, and trim, You begin your steps demurely— There's a spirit almost prim In the feet that move so surely. So discreetly, to the chime Of the music that so sweetly Marks the time.
But the chords begin to tinkle Quicker, And your feet they flash and flicker— Twinkle!— Flash and flutter to a tricksy Fickle meter; And you foot it like a pixie— Only fleeter!
Not our current, dowdy Things— "Turkey trots" and rowdy Flings— For they made you overseas In politer times than these In an age when grace could please, Ere St. Vitus Clutched and shook us, spine and knees; Loosed a plague of jerks to smite us!
But Marquis is more than the arbiter of dainty elegances in rhyme: he sings and celebrates a robust world where men struggle upward from the slime and discontent leaps from star to star. The evolutionary theme is a favourite with him: the grand pageant of humanity groping from Piltdown to Beacon Hill, winning in a million years two precarious inches of forehead. Much more often than F.P.A., who used to be his brother colyumist in Manhattan, he dares to disclose the real earnestness that underlies his chaff.
I suppose that the conductor of a daily humorous column stands in the hierarchy of unthanked labourers somewhere between a plumber and a submarine trawler. Most of the available wheezes were pulled long ago by Plato in the Republic (not the New Republic) or by Samuel Butler in his Notebooks. Contribs come valiantly to hand with a barrowful of letters every day—("The ravings fed him" as Don captioned some contrib's quip about Simeon Stylites living on a column); but nevertheless the direct and alternating current must be turned on six times a week. His jocular exposal of the colyumist's trade secret compares it to the boarding-house keeper's rotation of crops:
MONDAY. Take up an idea in a serious way. (ROAST BEEF.)
TUESDAY. Some one writes us a letter about Monday's serious idea. (COLD ROAST BEEF.)
WEDNESDAY. Josh the idea we took up seriously on Monday. (BEEF STEW.)
THURSDAY. Some one takes issue with us for Wednesday's josh of Monday's serious idea. (BEEFSTEAK PIE.)
FRIDAY. We become a little pensive about our Wednesday's josh of Monday's serious idea—there creeps into our copy a more subdued, sensible note, as if we were acknowledging that after all, the main business of life is not mere harebrained word-play. (HASH OR CROQUETTES WITH GREEN PEPPERS.)
SATURDAY. Spoof the whole thing again, especially spoofing ourself for having ever taken it seriously. (BEEF SOUP WITH BARLEY IN IT.)
SUNDAY. There isn't any evening paper on Sunday. That is where we have the advantage of the boarding-house keepers.
But the beauty of Don's cuisine is that the beef soup with barley always tastes as good as, or even better than, the original roast. His dry battery has generated in the past few years a dozen features with real voltage—the Savage Portraits, Hermione, Archy the Vers Libre Cockroach, the Aptronymic Scouts, French Without a Struggle, Suggestions to Popular Song Writers, Our Own Wall Mottoes, and the sequence of Prefaces (to an Almanac, a Mileage Book, The Plays of Euripides, a Diary, a Book of Fishhooks, etc.). Some of Marquis's most admirable and delicious fooling has been poured into these Prefaces: I hope that he will put them between book-covers.
One day I got a letter from a big engineering firm in Ohio, enclosing a number of pay-envelopes (empty). They wanted me to examine the aphorisms and orisonswettmardenisms they had been printing on their weekly envelopes, for the inspiration and peptonizing of their employees. They had been using quotations from Emerson, McAdoo, and other panhellenists, and had run out of "sentiments." They wanted suggestions as to where they could find more.
I advised them to get in touch with Don Marquis. I don't know whether they did so or not; but Don's epigrams and bon mots would adorn any pay-envelope anthology. Some of his casual comments on whiskey would do more to discourage the decanterbury pilgrims than a bushel of tracts.
By the time a bartender knows what drink a man will have before he orders, there is little else about him worth knowing.
If you go to sleep while you are loafing, how are you going to know you are loafing?
Because majorities are often wrong it does not follow that minorities are always right.
Young man, if she asks you if you like her hair that way, beware. The woman has already committed matrimony in her own heart.
I am tired of being a promising young man. I've been a promising young man for twenty years.
In most of Don Marquis's japes, a still small voice speaks in the mirthquake:
If you try too hard to get a thing, you don't get it.
If you sweat and strain and worry the other ace will not come—the little ball will not settle upon the right number or the proper colour—the girl will marry the other man—the public will cry, Bedamned to him! he can't write anyhow!—the cosmos will refuse its revelations of divinity—the Welsh rabbit will be stringy—you will find there are not enough rhymes in the language to finish your ballade—the primrose by the river's brim will be only a hayfever carrier—and your fountain pen will dribble ink upon your best trousers.
But Don Marquis's mind has two yolks (to use one of his favourite denunciations). In addition to these comic or satiric shadows, the gnomon of his Sun Dial may be relied on every now and then to register a clear-cut notation of the national mind and heart. For instance this, just after the United States severed diplomatic relations with Germany:
This Beast we know, whom time brings to his last rebirth Bull-thewed, iron-boned, cold-eyed and strong as Earth ... As Earth, who spawned and lessoned him, Yielded her earthy secrets, gave him girth, Armoured the skull and braced the heavy limb— Who frowned above him, proud and grim, While he sucked from her salty dugs the lore Of fire and steel and stone and war: She taught brute facts, brute might, but not the worth
Of spirit, honour and clean mirth ... His shape is Man, his mood is Dinosaur.
Tip from the wild red Welter of the past Foaming he comes: let this rush, be his last.
Too patient we have been, thou knowest, God, thou knowest. We have been slow as doom. Our dead Of yesteryear lie on the ocean's bed— We have denied each pleading ghost— We have been slow: God, make us sure. We have been slow. Grant we endure Unto the uttermost, the uttermost.
Did our slow mood, O God, with thine accord? Then weld our diverse millions, Lord, Into one single swinging sword.
I have been combing over the files of the Sun Dial, and it is disheartening to see these deposits of pearl and pie-crust, this sediment of fine mind, buried full fathom five in the yellowing archives of a newspaper. I thought of De Quincey's famous utterance about the press:
Worlds of fine thinking lie buried in that vast abyss, never to be disentombed or restored to human admiration. Like the sea, it has swallowed treasures without end, that no diving-bell will bring up again.
Greatly as we cherish the Sun Dial, we are jealous of it for sapping all its author's time and calories. No writer in America has greater of more meaty, stalwart gifts. Don, we cry, spend less time stoking that furnace out in Port Washington, and more on your novels!
There is no more convincing proof of the success of the Sun Dial than the roster of its contributors. Some of the most beautiful lyrics of the past few years have been printed there (I think particularly of two or three by Padraic Colum). In this ephemeral column of a daily newspaper some of the rarest singers and keenest wits of the time have been glad to exhibit their wares, without pay of course. It would be impossible to give a complete list, but among them are William Rose Benet, Clinton Scollard, Edith M. Thomas, Benjamin De Casseres, Gelett Burgess, Georgia Pangborn, Charles Hanson Towne, Clement Wood.
But the tragedy of the colyumist's task is that the better he does it the harder it becomes. People simply will not leave him alone. All day long they drop into his office, or call him up on the phone in the hope of getting into the column. Poor Don! he has become an institution down on Nassau Street: whatever hour of the day you call, you will find his queue there chivvying him. He is too gracious to throw them out: his only expedient is to take them over to the gin cathedral across the street and buy them a drink. Lately the poor wretch has had to write his Dial out in the pampas of Long Island, bringing it in with him in the afternoon, in order to get it done undisturbed. How many times I have sworn never to bother him again! And yet, when one is passing in that neighbourhood, the temptation is irresistible.... I dare say Ben Jonson had the same trouble. Of course someone ought to endow Don and set him permanently at the head of a chophouse table, presiding over a kind of Mermaid coterie of robust wits. He is a master of the tavernacular.
He is a versatile cove. Philosopher, satirist, burlesquer, poet, critic, and novelist. Perhaps the three critics in this country whose praise is best worth having, and least easy to win, would be Marquis, Strunsky, and O.W. Firkins. And I think that the three leading poets male in this country to-day are Marquis, William Rose Benet, and (perhaps) Vachel Lindsay. Of course Don Marquis has an immense advantage over Will Benet in his stoutness. Will had to feed up on honey and candied apricocks and mares' milk for months before they would admit him to the army.
Hermione and her little group of "Serious Thinkers" have attained the dignity of book publication, and now stand on the shelf beside "Danny's Own Story" and "The Cruise of the Jasper B." This satire on the azure-pedalled coteries of Washington Square has perhaps received more publicity than any other of Marquis's writings, but of all Don's drolleries I reserve my chief affection for Archy. The cockroach, endowed by some freak of transmigration with the shining soul of a vers libre poet, is a thoroughly Marquisian whimsy. I make no apology for quoting this prince of blattidae at some length. Many a commuter, opening his evening paper on the train, looks first of all to see if Archy is in the Dial. I love Archy because there seems to me something thoroughly racial and native and American about him. Can you imagine him, for instance, in Punch? His author has never told us which one of the vers libre poets it is whose soul has emigrated into Archy, but I feel sure it is not Ezra Pound or any of the expatriated eccentrics who lisp in odd numbers in the King's Road, Chelsea. Could it be Amy Lowell? Perhaps it should be explained that Archy's carelessness as to punctuation and capitals is not mere ostentation, but arises from the fact that he is not strong enough to work the shift key of his typewriter. Ingenious readers of the Sun Dial have suggested many devices to make this possible, but none that seem feasible to the roach himself.
The Argument: Archy, the vers libre cockroach, overhears a person with whiskers and dressed in the uniform of a butler in the British Navy, ask a German waiter if the pork pie is built. Ja, Ja, replies the waiter. Archy's suspicions are awakened, and he climbs into the pork pie through an air hole, and prepares his soul for parlous times. The naval butler takes the pie on board a launch, and Archy, watching through one of the portholes of the pastry, sees that they are picked up by a British cruiser "an inch or two outside the three-mile line." (This was in neutral days, remember.) Archy continues the narrative in lower case agate:
it is cuthbert with the pork pie the captain has been longing for said a voice and on every side rang shouts of the pie the pie the captains pie has come at last and a salute of nineteen guns was fired the pie was carried at once to the captains mess room where the captain a grizzled veteran sat with knife and fork in hand and serviette tucked under his chin i knew cried the captain that if there was a pork pie in america my faithful cuthbert find it for me the butler bowed and all the ships officers pulled up their chairs to the table with a rasping sound you may serve it honest cuthbert said the captain impatiently and the butler broke a hole in the top crust he touched a hidden mechanism for immediately something right under me began to go tick tock tick tock tick tock what is that noise captain said the larboard mate only the patent log clicking off the knots said the butler it needs oiling again but cuthbert said the captain why are you so nervous and what means that flush upon your face that flush your honor is chicken pox said cuthbert i am subject to sudden attacks of it unhand that pie cried the ships surgeon leaping to his feet arrest that butler he is a teuton spy that is not chicken pox at all it is german measles ha ha cried the false butler the ship is doomed there is a clock work bomb in this pie my name is not cuthbert it is friedrich and he leaped through a port into the sea his blonde side whiskers which were false falling off as he did so ha ha rang his mocking laughter from the ocean as he pulled shoreward with long strokes your ship is doomed my god said the senior boatswain what shall we do stop the clock ordered the captain but i had already done so i braced my head against the hour hand and my feet against the minute hand and stopped the mechanism the captain drew his sword and pried off all the top crust gentlemen he said yonder cockroach has saved the ship let us throw the pie overboard and steam rapidly away from it advised the starboard ensign not so not so cried the captain yon gallant cockroach must not perish so gratitude is a tradition of the british navy i would sooner perish with him than desert him all the time the strain was getting worse on me if my feet slipped the clock would start again and all would be lost beads of sweat rolled down my forehead and almost blinded me something must be done quick said the first assistant captain the insect is losing his rigidity wait said the surgeon and gave me a hypodermic of some powerful east indian drug which stiffened me like a cataleptic but i could still see and hear for days and days a council of war was held about me every afternoon and wireless reports sent to london save the cockroach even if you lose the ship wirelessed the admiralty england must stand by the smaller nations and every hour the surgeon gave me another hypodermic at the end of four weeks the cabin boy who had been thinking deeply all the time suggested that a plug of wood be inserted in my place which was done and i fell to the deck well nigh exhausted the next day i was set on shore in the captains gig and here i am.
So far as I know, America has made just two entirely original contributions to the world's types of literary and dramatic art. These are the humorous colyum and the burlesque show. The saline and robust repartee of the burlicue is ancient enough in essence, but it is compounded into a new and uniquely American mode, joyously flavoured with Broadway garlic. The newspaper colyum, too, is a native product. Whether Ben Franklin or Eugene Field invented it, it bears the image and superscription of America.
And using the word ephemeral in its strict sense, Don Marquis is unquestionably the cleverest of our ephemeral philosophers. This nation suffers a good deal from lack of humour in high places: our Great Pachyderms have all Won their Way to the Top by a Resolute Struggle. But Don has just chuckled and gone on refusing to answer letters or fill out Mr. Purinton's blasphemous efficiency charts or join the Poetry Society or attend community masques. And somehow all these things seem to melt away, and you look round the map and see Don Marquis taking up all the scenery.... He has such an oecumenical kind of humour. It's just as true in Brooklyn as it is in the Bronx.
He is at his best when he takes up some philosophic dilemma, or some quaint abstraction (viz., Certainty, Predestination, Idleness, Uxoricide, Prohibition, Compromise, or Cornutation) and sets the idea spinning. Beginning slowly, carelessly, in a deceptive, offhand manner, he lets the toy revolve as it will. Gradually the rotation accelerates; faster and faster he twirls the thought (sometimes losing a few spectators whose centripetal powers are not starch enough) until, chuckling, he holds up the flashing, shimmering conceit, whirling at top speed and ejaculating sparks. What is so beautiful as a rapidly revolving idea? Marquis's mind is like a gyroscope: the faster it spins, the steadier it is. There are laws of dynamics in colyums just as anywhere else.
What is there in the nipping air of Galesburg, Illinois, that turns the young sciolists of Knox College toward the rarefied ethers of literature? S.S. McClure, John Phillips, Ralph Waldo Trine, Don Marquis—are there other Knox men in the game, too? Marquis was studying at Galesburg about the time of the Spanish War. He has worked on half a dozen newspapers, and assisted Joel Chandler Harris in editing "Uncle Remus's Magazine." But let him tell his biography in his own words:
Born July 29, 1878, at Walnut, Bureau Co., Ill., a member of the Republican party.
My father was a physician, and I had all the diseases of the time and place free of charge.
Nothing further happened to me until, in the summer of 1896, I left the Republican party to follow the Peerless Leader to defeat.
In 1900 I returned to the Republican party to accept a position in the Census Bureau, at Washington, D.C. This position I filled for some months in a way highly satisfactory to the Government in power. It is particularly gratifying to me to remember that one evening, after I had worked unusually hard at the Census Office, the late President McKinley himself nodded and smiled to me as I passed through the White House grounds on my way home from toil. He had heard of my work that day, I had no doubt, and this was his way of showing me how greatly he appreciated it.
Nevertheless, shortly after President McKinley paid this public tribute to the honesty, efficiency and importance of my work in the Census Office, I left the Republican party again, and accepted a position as reporter on a Washington paper.
Upon entering the newspaper business all the troubles of my earlier years disappeared as if by magic, and I have lived the contented, peaceful, unworried life of the average newspaper man ever since.
There is little more to tell. In 1916 I again returned to the Republican party. This time it was for the express purpose of voting against Mr. Wilson. Then Mr. Hughes was nominated, and I left the Republican party again.
This is the outline of my life in its relation to the times in which I live. For the benefit of those whose curiosity extends to more particular details, I add a careful pen-picture of myself.
It seems more modest, somehow, to put it in the third person:
Height, 5 feet 101/2 inches; hair, dove-coloured; scar on little finger of left hand; has assured carriage, walking boldly into good hotels and mixing with patrons on terms of equality; weight, 200 pounds; face slightly asymmetrical, but not definitely criminal in type; loathes Japanese art, but likes beefsteak and onions; wears No. 8 shoe; fond of Francis Thompson's poems; inside seam of trousers, 32 inches; imitates cats, dogs and barnyard animals for the amusement of young children; eyetooth in right side of upper jaw missing; has always been careful to keep thumb prints from possession of police; chest measurement, 42 inches, varying with respiration; sometimes wears glasses, but usually operates undisguised; dislikes the works of Rabindranath Tagore; corn on little toe of right foot; superstitious, especially with regard to psychic phenomena; eyes, blue; does not use drugs nor read his verses to women's clubs; ruddy complexion; no photograph in possession of police; garrulous and argumentative; prominent cheek bones; avoids Bohemian society, so-called, and has never been in a thieves' kitchen, a broker's office nor a class of short-story writing; wears 17-inch collar; waist measurement none of your business; favourite disease, hypochondria; prefers the society of painters, actors, writers, architects, preachers, sculptors, publishers, editors, musicians, among whom he often succeeds in insinuating himself, avoiding association with crooks and reformers as much as possible; walks with rapid gait; mark of old fracture on right shin; cuffs on trousers, and coat cut loose, with plenty of room under the arm pits; two hip pockets; dislikes Rochefort cheese, "Tom Jones," Wordsworth's poetry, absinthe cocktails, most musical comedy, public banquets, physical exercise, Billy Sunday, steam heat, toy dogs, poets who wear their souls outside, organized charity, magazine covers, and the gas company; prominent callouses on two fingers of right hand prevent him being expert pistol shot; belt straps on trousers; long upper lip; clean shaven; shaggy eyebrows; affects soft hats; smile, one-sided; no gold fillings in teeth; has served six years of indeterminate sentence in Brooklyn, with no attempt to escape, but is reported to have friends outside; voice, husky; scar above the forehead concealed by hair; commonly wears plain gold ring on little finger of left hand; dislikes prunes, tramp poets and imitations of Kipling; trousers cut loose over hips and seat; would likely come along quietly if arrested.
I would fail utterly in this rambling anatomy if I did not insist that Don Marquis regards his column not merely as a soapslide but rather as a cudgelling ground for sham and hypocrisy. He has something of the quick Stevensonian instinct for the moral issue, and the Devil not infrequently winces about the time the noon edition of the Evening Sun comes from the press. There is no man quicker to bonnet a fallacy or drop the acid just where it will disinfect. For instance, this comment on some bolshevictory in Russia:
A kind word was recently seen, on one of the principal streets of Petrograd, attempting to butter a parsnip.
For the plain man who shies at surplice and stole, the Sun Dial is a very real pulpit, whence, amid excellent banter, he hears much that is purging and cathartic in a high degree. The laughter of fat men is a ringing noble music, and Don Marquis, like Friar Tuck, deals texts and fisticuffs impartially. What an archbishop of Canterbury he would have made! He is a burly and bonny dominie, and his congregation rarely miss the point of the sermon. We cannot close better than by quoting part of his Colyumist's Prayer in which he admits us somewhere near the pulse of the machine:
I pray Thee, make my colyum read, And give me thus my daily bread. Endow me, if Thou grant me wit, Likewise with sense to mellow it. Save me from feeling so much hate My food will not assimilate; Open mine eyes that I may see Thy world with more of charity, And lesson me in good intents And make me friend of innocence ... Make me (sometimes at least) discreet; Help me to hide my self-conceit, And give me courage now and then To be as dull as are most men. And give me readers quick to see When I am satirizing Me.... Grant that my virtues may atone For some small vices of mine own.
And it is thoroughly characteristic of Don Marquis that he follows his prayer with this comment:
People, when they pray, usually pray not for what they really want—and intend to have if they can get it—but for what they think the Creator wants them to want. We made a certain attempt to be sincere in the above verses; but even at that no doubt a lot of affectation crept in.
THE ART OF WALKING
Away with the stupid adage about a man being as old as his arteries! He is as old as his calves—his garteries....
—Meditations of Andrew McGill.
"There was fine walking on the hills in the direction of the sea."
This heart-stirring statement, which I find in an account of the life of William and Dorothy Wordsworth when they inhabited a quiet cottage near Crewkerne in Dorset, reminds me how often the word "walking" occurs in any description of Wordsworth's existence. De Quincey assures us that the poet's props were very ill shapen—"they were pointedly condemned by all female connoisseurs in legs"—but none the less he was princeps arte ambulandi. Even had he lived to-day, when all our roads are barbarized by exploding gasoline vapours, I do not think Wordsworth would have flivvered. Of him the Opium Eater made the classic pronouncement: "I calculate that with these identical legs W. must have traversed a distance of 175,000 to 180,000 English miles—a mode of exertion which, to him, stood in the stead of alcohol and all other stimulants whatsoever to the animal spirits; to which, indeed, he was indebted for a life of unclouded happiness, and we for much of what is most excellent in his writings."
A book that says anything about walking has a ready passage to my inmost heart. The best books are always those that set down with "amorous precision" the satisfying details of human pilgrimage. How one sympathizes with poor Pepys in his outburst (April 30, 1663) about a gentleman who seems to have been "Always Taking the Joy Out of Life":
Lord! what a stir Stankes makes, with his being crowded in the streets, and wearied in walking in London, and would not be wooed to go to a play, nor to Whitehall, or to see the lions, though he was carried in a coach. I never could have thought there had been upon earth a man so little curious in the world as he is.
Now your true walker is mightily "curious in the world," and he goes upon his way zealous to sate himself with a thousand quaintnesses. When he writes a book he fills it full of food, drink, tobacco, the scent of sawmills on sunny afternoons, and arrivals at inns late at night. He writes what Mr. Mosher calls a book-a-bosom. Diaries and letters are often best of all because they abound in these matters. And because walking can never again be what it was—the motorcars will see to that—it is our duty to pay it greater reverence and honour.
Wordsworth and Coleridge come first to mind in any talk about walking. The first time they met was in 1797 when Coleridge tramped from Nether Stowey to Racedown (thirty miles in an air-line, and full forty by road) to make the acquaintance of William and Dorothy. That is practically from the Bristol Channel to the English ditto, a rousing stretch. It was Wordsworth's pamphlet describing a walk across France to the Alps that spurred Coleridge on to this expedition. The trio became fast friends, and William and Dorothy moved to Alfoxden (near Nether Stowey) to enjoy the companionship. What one would give for some adequate account of their walks and talks together over the Quantocks. They planned a little walking trip into Devonshire that autumn (1797) and "The Ancient Mariner" was written in the hope of defraying the expenses of the adventure.
De Quincey himself, who tells us so much jovial gossip about Wordsworth and Coleridge, was no mean pedestrian. He describes a forty-mile all-night walk from Bridgewater to Bristol, on the evening after first meeting Coleridge. He could not sleep after the intellectual excitement of the day, and through a summer night "divinely calm" he busied himself with meditation on the sad spectacle he had witnessed: a great mind hastening to decay.
I have always fancied that walking as a fine art was not much practised before the eighteenth century. We know from Ambassador Jusserand's famous book how many wayfarers were on the roads in the fourteenth century, but none of these were abroad for the pleasures of moving meditation and scenery. We can gather from Mr. Tristram's "Coaching Days and Coaching Ways" that the highroads were by no means safe for solitary travellers even so late as 1750. In "Joseph Andrews" (1742) whenever any of the characters proceed afoot they are almost certain to be held up. Mr. Isaac Walton, it is true, was a considerable rambler a century earlier than this, and in his Derbyshire hills must have passed many lonely gullies; but footpads were more likely to ambush the main roads. It would be a hardhearted bandit who would despoil the gentle angler of his basket of trouts. Goldsmith, too, was a lusty walker, and tramped it over the Continent for two years (1754-6) with little more baggage than a flute: he might have written "The Handy Guide for Beggars" long before Vachel Lindsay. But generally speaking, it is true that cross-country walks for the pure delight of rhythmically placing one foot before the other were rare before Wordsworth. I always think of him as one of the first to employ his legs as an instrument of philosophy.
After Wordsworth they come thick and fast. Hazlitt, of course—have you paid the tax that R.L.S. imposes on all who have not read Hazlitt's "On Going A Journey?" Then Keats: never was there more fruitful walk than the early morning stroll from Clerkenwell to the Poultry in October, 1816, that produced "Much have I travelled in the realms of gold." He must have set out early enough, for the manuscript of the sonnet was on Cowden Clarke's table by breakfast time. And by the way, did you know that the copy of Chapman's Homer which inspired it belonged to the financial editor of the Times? Never did financial editor live to better purpose!
There are many words of Keats that are a joyful viaticum for the walker: get these by rote in some membrane of memory:
The great Elements we know of are no mean comforters: the open sky sits upon our senses like a sapphire crown—the Air is our robe of state—the Earth is our throne, and the sea a mighty minstrel playing before it.
The Victorians were great walkers. Railways were but striplings; inns were at their prime. Hark to the great names in the walker's Hall of Fame: Tennyson, FitzGerald, Matthew Arnold, Carlyle, Kingsley, Meredith, Richard Jefferies. What walker can ever forget the day when he first read "The Story of My Heart?" In my case it was the 24th of August, 1912, on a train from London to Cambridge. Then there were George Borrow, Emily Bronte on her Yorkshire moors, and Leslie Stephen, one of the princes of the clan and founder of the famous Sunday Tramps of whom Meredith was one. Walt Whitman would have made a notable addition to that posse of philosophic walkers, save that I fear the garrulous half-baked old barbarian would have been disappointed that he could not dominate the conversation.
There have been stout walkers in our own day. Mr. W.H. Davies (the Super-Tramp), G.M. Trevelyan, Hilaire Belloc, Edward Thomas who died on the field of honour in April, 1917, and Francis Ledwidge, who was killed in Flanders. Who can forget his noble words, "I have taken up arms for the fields along the Boyne, for the birds and the blue sky over them." There is Walter Prichard Eaton, the Jefferies of our own Berkshires. One could extend the list almost without end. Sometimes it seems as though literature were a co-product of legs and head.
Charles Lamb and Leigh Hunt were great city ramblers, followed in due course by Dickens, R.L.S., Edward Lucas, Holbrook Jackson, and Pearsall Smith. Mr. Thomas Burke is another, whose "Nights in Town" will delight the lover of the greatest of all cities. But urban wanderings, delicious as they are, are not quite what we mean by walking. On pavements one goes by fit and start, halting to see, to hear, and to speculate. In the country one captures the true ecstasy of the long, unbroken swing, the harmonious glow of mind and body, eyes fed, soul feasted, brain and muscle exercised alike.
Meredith is perhaps the Supreme Pontiff of modern country walkers: no soft lover of drowsy golden weather, but master of the stiffer breed who salute frost and lashing rain and roaring southwest wind, who leap to grapple with the dissolving riddles of destiny. February and March are his months:
For love we Earth then serve we all; Her mystic secret then is ours: We fall, or view our treasures fall, Unclouded, as beholds her flowers.
Earth, from a night of frosty wreck, Enrobed in morning's mounted fire, When lowly, with a broken neck, The crocus lays her cheek to mire.
I suppose every walker collects a few precious books which form the bible of his chosen art. I have long been collecting a Walker's Breviary of my own. It includes Stevenson's "Walking Tours," G.M. Trevelyan's "Walking," Leslie Stephen's "In Praise of Walking," shards and crystals from all the others I have mentioned. Michael Fairless, Vachel Lindsay, and Frank Sidgwick have place in it. On my private shelf stands "Journeys to Bagdad" by Mr. Charles Brooks, who has good pleasantry to utter on this topic; and a manly little volume, "Walking as Education," by the Rev. A.N. Cooper, "the walking parson," published in England in 1910. On that same shelf there will soon stand a volume of delicious essays by one of the most accomplished of American walkers, Mr. Robert Cortes Holliday, the American Belloc, whose "Walking Stick Papers" has beckoned to the eye of a far-seeing publisher. Mr. Holliday it is who has bravely stated why so few of the fair sex are able to participate in walking tours:
No one, though (this is the first article to be observed), should ever go a journey with any other than him with whom one walks arm in arm, in the evening, the twilight, and, talking (let us suppose) of men's given names, agrees that if either should have a son he shall be named after the other. Walking in the gathering dusk, two and two, since the world began, there have always been young men who have thus to one another plighted their troth. If one is not still one of these, then, in the sense here used, journeys are over for him. What is left to him of life he may enjoy, but not journeys. Mention should be made in passing that some have been found so ignorant of the nature of journeys as to suppose that they might be taken in company with members, or a member, of the other sex. Now, one who writes of journeys would cheerfully be burned at the stake before he would knowingly underestimate women. But it must be confessed that it is another season in the life of man that they fill.
They are too personal for the high enjoyment of going a journey. They must forever be thinking about you or about themselves; with them everything in the world is somehow tangled up in these matters; and when you are with them (you cannot help it, or if you could they would not allow it) you must forever be thinking about them or yourself. Nothing on either side can be seen detached. They cannot rise to that philosophic plane of mind which is the very marrow of going a journey. One reason for this is that they can never escape from the idea of society: You are in their society, they are in yours; and the multitudinous personal ties which connect you all to that great order called society that you have for a period got away from physically are present. Like the business man who goes on a vacation from his business and takes his business habits along with him, so on a journey they would bring society along, and all sort of etiquette.
He that goes a journey shakes off the trammels of the world; he has fled all impediments and inconveniences; he belongs, for the moment, to no time or place. He is neither rich nor poor, but in that which he thinks and sees. There is not such another Arcadia for this on earth as in going a journey. He that goes a journey escapes, for a breath of air, from all conventions; without which, though, of course, society would go to pot; and which are the very natural instinct of women.
Mr. Holliday has other goodly matter upon the philosophy and art of locomotion, and those who are wise and have a lively faith may be admitted to great and surpassing delights if they will here and now make memorandum to buy his book, which will soon be published.
Speaking of Vachel Lindsay, his "Handy Guide for Beggars" will bring an itch along the shanks of those who love shoe-leather and a knobbed stick. Vachel sets out for a walk in no mean and pettifogging spirit: he proceeds as an army with banners: he intends that the world shall know he is afoot: the Great Elian of Springfield is unleashed—let alewives and deacons tremble!
Ungenerous hosts have cozened Vachel by begging him to recite his poems at the beginning of each course, in the meantime getting on with their eating; but despite the naivete of his eagerness to sing, there is a plain and manly simplicity about Vachel that delights us all. We like to know that here is a poet who has wrestled with poverty, who never wrote a Class Day poem at Harvard, who has worn frayed collars or none at all, and who lets the barber shave the back of his neck. We like to know that he has tramped the ties in Georgia, harvested in Kansas, been fumigated in New Jersey, and lives contented in Illinois. Four weeks a year he lives as the darling of the cisalleghany Browning Societies, but he is always glad to get back to Springfield and resume his robes as the local Rabindranath. If he ever buys an automobile I am positive it will be a Ford. Here is homo americanus, one of ourselves, who never wore spats in his life.
But even the plain man may see visions. Walking on crowded city streets at night, watching the lighted windows, delicatessen shops, peanut carts, bakeries, fish stalls, free lunch counters piled with crackers and saloon cheese, and minor poets struggling home with the Saturday night marketing—he feels the thrill of being one, or at least two-thirds, with this various, grotesque, pathetic, and surprising humanity. The sense of fellowship with every other walking biped, the full-blooded understanding that Whitman and O. Henry knew in brimming measure, comes by gulps and twinges to almost all. That is the essence of Lindsay's feeling about life. He loves crowds, companionship, plenty of sirloin and onions, and seeing his name in print. He sings and celebrates the great symbols of our hodgepodge democracy: ice cream soda, electrical sky-signs, Sunday School picnics, the movies, Mark Twain. In the teeming ooze and ocean bottoms of our atlantic humanity he finds rich corals and rainbow shells, hospitality, reverence, love, and beauty.
This is the sentiment that makes a merry pedestrian, and Vachel has scrutineered and scuffled through a dozen states, lightening larders and puzzling the worldly. Afoot and penniless is his technique—"stopping when he had a mind to, singing when he felt inclined to"—and begging his meals and bed. I suppose he has had as many free meals as any American citizen; and, this is how he does it, copied from his little pamphlet used on many a road:
RHYMES TO BE TRADED FOR BREAD
Being new verses by Nicholas Vachel Lindsay, Springfield, Illinois, June, 1912, printed expressly as a substitute for money.
This book is to be used in exchange for the necessities of life on a tramp-journey from the author's home town, through the West and back, during which he will observe the following rules:
(1) Keep away from the cities.
(2) Keep away from the railroads.
(3) Have nothing to do with money. Carry no baggage.
(4) Ask for dinner about quarter after eleven.
(5) Ask for supper, lodging, and breakfast about quarter of five.
(6) Travel alone.
(7) Be neat, truthful, civil, and on the square.
(8) Preach the Gospel of Beauty.
In order to carry out the last rule there will be three exceptions to the rule against baggage. (1) The author will carry a brief printed statement, called "The Gospel of Beauty." (2) He will carry this book of rhymes for distribution. (3) Also he will carry a small portfolio with pictures, etc., chosen to give an outline of his view of the history of art, especially as it applies to America.
Perhaps I have tarried too long over Vachel; but I have set down his theories of vagabonding because many walkers will find them interesting. "The Handy Guide for Beggars" will leave you footsore but better for the exercise. And when the fascinating story of American literature in this decade (1910-20) is finally written, there will be a happy and well-merited corner in it for a dusty but "neat, truthful, and civil" figure from Springfield, Illinois.
A good pipeful of prose to solace yourself withal, about sunset on a lonely road, is that passage on "Lying Awake at Night" to be found in "The Forest," by Stewart Edward White. Major White is one of the best friends the open-air walker has, and don't forget it!
The motors have done this for us at least, that as they have made the highways their own beyond dispute, walking will remain the mystic and private pleasure of the secret and humble few. For us the byways, the footpaths, and the pastures will be sanctified and sweet. Thank heaven there are still gentle souls uncorrupted by the victrola and the limousine. In our old trousers and our easy shoes, with pipe and stick, we can do our fifteen miles between lunch and dinner, and glorify the ways of God to man.
And sometimes, about two o'clock of an afternoon (these spells come most often about half an hour after lunch), the old angel of peregrination lifts himself up in me, and I yearn and wamble for a season afoot. When a blue air is moving keenly through bare boughs this angel is most vociferous. I gape wanly round the lofty citadel where I am pretending to earn the Monday afternoon envelope. The filing case, thermostat, card index, typewriter, automatic telephone: these ingenious anodynes avail me not. Even the visits of golden nymphs, sweet ambassadors of commerce, who rustle in and out of my room with memoranda, mail, manuscripts, aye, even these lightfoot figures fail to charm. And the mind goes out to the endless vistas of streets, roads, fields, and rivers that summon the wanderer with laughing voice. Somewhere a great wind is scouring the hillsides; and once upon a time a man set out along the Great North Road to walk to Royston in the rain....
Grant us, O Zeus! the tingling tremour of thigh and shank that comes of a dozen sturdy miles laid underheel. Grant us "fine walking on the hills in the direction of the sea"; or a winding road that tumbles down to some Cotswold village. Let an inn parlour lie behind red curtains, and a table be drawn toward the fire. Let there be a loin of cold beef, an elbow of yellow cheese, a tankard of dog's nose. Then may we prop our Bacon's Essays against the pewter and study those mellow words: "Certainly it is heaven upon earth to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth." Haec studio, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.
Rupert Brooke had the oldest pith of England in his fibre. He was born of East Anglia, the original vein of English blood. Ruddy skin, golden-brown hair, blue eyes, are the stamp of the Angles. Walsingham, in Norfolk, was the home of the family. His father was a master at Rugby; his grandfather a canon in the church.
In 1913 Heffer, the well-known bookseller and publisher of Cambridge, England, issued a little anthology called Cambridge Poems 1900-1913. This volume was my first introduction to Brooke. As an undergraduate at Oxford during the years 1910-13 I had heard of his work from time to time; but I think we youngsters at Oxford were too absorbed in our own small versemakings to watch very carefully what the "Tabs" were doing. His poem The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, reprinted in Heffer's Cambridge Poems, first fell under my eye during the winter of 1913-14.
Grantchester is a tiny hamlet just outside Cambridge; set in the meadows along the Cam or Granta (the earlier name), and next door to the Trumpington of Chaucer's "The Reeve's Tale." All that Cambridge country is flat and comparatively uninteresting; patchworked with chalky fields bright with poppies; slow, shallow streams drifting between pollard willows; it is the beginning of the fen district, and from the brow of the Royston downs (thirteen miles away) it lies as level as a table-top with the great chapel of King's clear against the sky. It is the favourite lament of Cambridge men that their "Umgebung" is so dull and monotonous compared with the rolling witchery of Oxfordshire.
But to the young Cantab sitting over his beer at the Cafe des Westens in Berlin, the Cambridge villages seemed precious and fair indeed. Balancing between genuine homesickness for the green pools of the Cam, and a humorous whim in his rhymed comment on the outlying villages, Brooke wrote the Grantchester poem; and probably when the fleeting pang of nostalgia was over enjoyed the evening in Berlin hugely. But the verses are more than of merely passing interest. To one who knows that neighbourhood the picture is cannily vivid. To me it brings back with painful intensity the white winding road from Cambridge to Royston which I have bicycled hundreds of tunes. One sees the little inns along the way—the Waggon and Horses, the Plough, the King's Arms—and the recurring blue signboard Fine Royston Ales (the Royston brewery being famous in those parts). Behind the fun there shines Brooke's passionate devotion to the soil and soul of England which was to reach its final expression so tragically soon. And even behind this the immortal questions of youth which have no country and no clime—
Say, is there Beauty yet to find? And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
No lover of England, certainly no lover of Cambridge, is likely to forget the Grantchester poem. But knowing Brooke only by that, one may perhaps be excused for having merely ticketed him as one of the score of young varsity poets whom Oxford and Cambridge had graduated in the past decade and who are all doing fine and promising work. Even though he tarried here in the United States ("El Cuspidorado," as he wittily observed) and many hold precious the memory of his vivid mind and flashing face, to most of us he was totally unknown. Then came the War; he took part in the unsuccessful Antwerp Expedition; and while in training for the AEgean campaign he wrote the five sonnets entitled "1914". I do not know exactly when they were written or where first published. Their great popularity began when the Dean of St. Paul's quoted from them in a sermon on Easter Day, 1915, alluding to them as the finest expression of the English spirit that the War had called forth. They came to New York in the shape of clippings from the London Times. No one could read the matchless sonnet:
"If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England."
and not be thrilled to the quick. A country doctor in Ohio to whom I sent a copy of the sonnet wrote "I cannot read it without tears." This was poetry indeed; like the Scotchman and his house, we kent it by the biggin o't. I suppose many another stranger must have done as I did: wrote to Brooke to express gratitude for the perfect words. But he had sailed for the Mediterranean long before. Presently came a letter from London saying that he had died on the very day of my letter—April 23, 1915. He died on board the French hospital ship Duguay-Trouin, on Shakespeare's birthday, in his 28th year. One gathers from the log of the hospital-ship that the cause of his death was a malignant ulcer, due to the sting of some venomous fly. He had been weakened by a previous touch of sunstroke.
A description of the burial is given in "Memorials of Old Rugbeians Who Fell in the Great War." It vividly recalls Stevenson's last journey to the Samoan mountain top which Brooke himself had so recently visited. The account was written by one of Brooke's comrades, who has since been killed in action:
We found a most lovely place for his grave, about a mile up the valley from the sea, an olive grove above a watercourse, dry now, but torrential in winter. Two mountains flank it on either side, and Mount Khokilas is at its head. We chose a place in the most lovely grove I have ever seen, or imagined, a little glade of about a dozen trees, carpeted with mauve-flowering sage. Over its head droops an olive tree, and round it is a little space clear of all undergrowth.
About a quarter past nine the funeral party arrived and made their way up the steep, narrow, and rocky path that leads to the grave. The way was so rough and uncertain that we had to have men with lamps every twenty yards to guide the bearers. He was borne by petty officers of his own company, and so slowly did they go that it was not till nearly eleven that they reached the grave.
We buried him by cloudy moonlight. He wore his uniform, and on the coffin were his helmet, belt, and pistol (he had no sword). We lined the grave with flowers and olive, and Colonel Quilter laid an olive wreath on the coffin. The chaplain who saw him in the afternoon read the service very simply. The firing party fired three volleys and the bugles sounded the "Last Post."
And so we laid him to rest in that lovely valley, his head towards those mountains that he would have loved to know, and his feet towards the sea. He once said in chance talk that he would like to be buried in a Greek island. He could have no lovelier one than Skyros, and no quieter resting place.
On his grave we heaped great blocks of white marble; the men of his company made a great wooden cross for his head, with his name upon it, and his platoon put a smaller one at his feet. On the back of the large cross our interpreter wrote in Greek.... "Here lies the servant of God, sub-lieutenant in the English navy, who died for the deliverance of Constantinople from the Turks."
The next morning we sailed, and had no chance of revisiting his grave.
It is no mere flippancy to say that the War did much for Rupert Brooke. The boy who had written many hot, morbid, immature verses and a handful of perfect poetry, stands now by one swift translation in the golden cloudland of English letters. There will never, can never, be any laggard note in the praise of his work. And of a young poet dead one may say things that would be too fulsome for life. Professor Gilbert Murray is quoted:
"Among all who have been poets and died young, it is hard to think of one who, both in life and death, has so typified the ideal radiance of youth and poetry."
In the grave among the olive trees on the island of Skyros, Brooke found at least one Certainty—that of being "among the English poets." He would probably be the last to ask a more high-sounding epitaph.
His "Collected Poems" as published consist of eighty-two pieces, fifty of which were published in his first book, issued (in England only) in 1911. That is to say fifty of the poems were written before the age of 24, and seventeen of the fifty before 21. These last are thoroughly youthful in formula. We all go through the old familiar cycle, and Brooke did not take his youth at second hand. Socialism, vegetarianism, bathing by moonlight in the Cam, sleeping out of doors, walking barefoot on the crisp English turf, channel crossings and what not—it is all a part of the grand game. We can only ask that the man really see what he says he sees, and report it with what grace he can muster.
And so of the seventeen earliest poems there need not be fulsome praise. Few of us are immortal poets by twenty-one. But even Brooke's undergraduate verses refused to fall entirely into the usual grooves of sophomore song. So unerring a critic as Professor Woodberry (his introduction to the "Collected Poems" is so good that lesser hands may well pause) finds in them "more of the intoxication of the god" than in the later rounder work. They include the dreaming tenderness of Day That I Have Loved; they include such neat little pictures of the gross and sordid as the two poems Wagner and Dawn, written on a trip in Germany. (It is curious that the only note of exasperation in Brooke's poems occurs when he writes from Germany. One finds it again, wittily put, in Grantchester.)
This vein of brutality and resolute ugliness that one finds here and there in Brooke's work is not wholly amiss nor unintelligible. Like all young men of quick blood he seized gaily upon the earthy basis of our humanity and found in it food for purging laughter. There was never a young poet worth bread and salt who did not scrawl ribald verses in his day; we may surmise that Brooke's peers at King's would recall many vigorous stanzas that are not included in the volume at hand. The few touches that we have in this vein show a masculine fear on Brooke's part of being merely pretty in his verse. In his young thirst for reality he did not boggle at coarse figures or loathsome metaphors. Just as his poems of 1905-08 are of the cliche period where all lips are "scarlet," and lamps are "relumed," so the section dated 1908-11 shows Brooke in the Shropshire Lad stage, at the mercy of extravagant sex images, and yet developing into the dramatic felicity of his sonnet The Hill:
Breathless, we flung us on the windy hill, Laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass, You said, "Through glory and ecstasy we pass; Wind, sun, and earth remain, the birds sing still, When we are old, are old...." "And when we die All's over that is ours; and life burns on Through other lovers, other lips," said I, —"Heart of my heart, our heaven is now, is won!"
"We are Earth's best, that learnt her lesson here. Life is our cry. We have kept the faith!" we said: "We shall go down with unreluctant tread Rose-crowned into the darkness!" ... Proud we were And laughed, that had such brave true things to say. —And then you suddenly cried, and turned away.
The true lover of poetry, it seems to me, cannot but wish that the "1914" sonnets and the most perfect of the later poems had been separately issued. The best of Brooke forms a thin sheaf of consummate beauty, and I imagine that the little edition of "1914 and Other Poems," containing the thirty-two later poems, which was published in England and issued in Garden City by Doubleday, Page & Company in July, 1915, to save the American copy right, will always be more precious than the complete edition. As there were only twenty-five copies of this first American edition, it is extremely rare and will undoubtedly be sought after by collectors. But for one who is interested to trace the growth of Brooke's power, the steadying of his poetic orbit and the mounting flame of his joy in life, the poems of 1908-11 are an instructive study. From the perfected brutality of Jealousy or Menelaus and Helen or A Channel Passage (these bite like Meredith) we see him passing to sonnets that taste of Shakespeare and foretell his utter mastery of the form. What could better the wit and beauty of this song:
"Oh! Love," they said, "is King of Kings, And Triumph is his crown. Earth fades in flame before his wings, And Sun and Moon bow down." But that, I knew, would never do; And Heaven is all too high. So whenever I meet a Queen, I said, I will not catch her eye.
"Oh! Love," they said, and "Love," they said, "The Gift of Love is this; A crown of thorns about thy head, And vinegar to thy kiss!"— But Tragedy is not for me; And I'm content to be gay. So whenever I spied a Tragic Lady, I went another way.